More than 2.5 billion women and girls around the world have been affected in multiple ways with discriminatory laws and lack of legal protections. A multi-stakeholder approach, including the UN Women, is now campaigning for Equality in Law for women and girls by 2030. My question here is which magic wand can be used to change the world from now till 2030 that almost a century could not. The UN Charter was adopted in 1945 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 for ensuring the end of gender-based discrimination. A lot has happened since, but the establishment of full human rights is still a far cry. Countries like Nepal have signed almost all Conventions related to women’s rights and empowerment and have committed themselves to legal reforms but ironically are still struggling for the basic transfer of names of mothers to their children. Women all over the world are burdened more and more every day due to the domestic unpaid care work and work related to income-generation outside of homes. I often wonder these days as to whether the International Human Rights Instruments have really succeeded? If not, is it possible to achieve equality by 2030?
Male law “In the beginning, law was male. Law was made by men, though it was enforced against women as well as men and it was practiced only by men until relatively recently in human history” mentions Carrie Menkel-Meadow, in Mainstreaming Feminist Legal Theory. Law shapes the social order. Janet Rifkin mentions in Toward a Theory of Law and Patriarchy, that in any kind of group organisation where males hold dominant power and determine what part females shall and shall not play, and in which capabilities assigned to women are relegated generally to the mystical and aesthetic and excluded from the practical and political realms, these realms being regarded as separate and mutually exclusive. Law plays a primary and significant role in social order. Both social and legal values have since centuries been made from the viewpoint of male domination, leading to unequal treatment towards women, transgender, people with sexual minority, among other aspects. As a result, the UN declaration of human rights promulgated in 1948 aimed to abolish such discrimination. However, the dilemma is that even after almost a century later, we need a campaign to ensure that girls and women all over the world have equality in law by 2030! Some of the examples of differential treatments under law include the fact that girls and women cannot inherit equally as daughters in 39 countries, apply for a passport in 37 countries, inherit equally as a spouse in 36 countries, be head of household or family in 31 countries, get a job or pursue a trade or profession in 18 countries, travel outside their home in 17 countries, obtain a national ID card in 11 countries, register a business in 4 countries, open a bank account in 3 countries. Some facts and figures on restrictions on women’s economic empowerment, according to the World Bank Group, include the fact that 104 countries have laws which prevent women from working in specific jobs, 59 countries have no laws on sexual harassment in the workplace, in 18 countries husbands can legally prevent their wives from working, close to 40 per cent of countries have at least one constraint on women’s property rights as measured by the World Bank’s using property indicator, in 36 of 189 countries analysed, widows are not granted the same inheritance rights as widowers, 39 countries prevent daughters from inheriting the same proportion of assets as sons and 65 countries restrict women from working in mining, in 47 countries in construction in 37 countries, energy in 29 countries, agriculture in 27 countries, water in 26 countries and transportation in 21 countries. It is a fact that since the declaration of human rights there have been several efforts in the international and national levels to end discrimination. In 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) laid out a blueprint for women’s rights, including commitments to embody the principle of equality between men and women in law and in practice. In the years since, the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development have built on these commitments and reinforced the global drive to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women. However, the question remains why till now several campaigns are needed to end some of the most heinous crimes and discriminations? So the efforts like the 2030 Agenda now need to review what has gone wrong. There are still “clawback clauses” and other constitutional provisions that override non-discrimination guarantees. To me it looks more like a lack of political commitments to implement what is already there with enforcements that cannot be averted.
Exclusion The study of law has traditionally excluded women. Now law-making is led by the public sector but globally, according to a UN Women document, women hold only about 22 per cent positions. The document further mentions that although gender gaps differ by country, women account for only 23 per cent parliamentarians globally, 5 per cent of Heads of State and 17 per cent of ministers. At the ministerial level, women are often confined to welfare positions and excluded from frontline posts that directly contribute to shifting the boundaries of development. They are underrepresented as ministers of justice (law drafters), law reform commissioners (law proposers) and human rights commissioners (law monitors). As a result, law-making does not reflect the voices and perspectives of women and girls, and can adversely impact the extent to which the design and content of such laws address their priorities. To end discrimination a political commitment not just by leaders but by the global public is a must.
(Namrata Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights advocate. firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)